Hi-Fi+ Products of the Year: Headphones, Earphones, and CIEMS

Earphones and in-ear monitors
ENIGMAcoustics Dharma D1000,
HiFiMAN HE-400S,
HiFiMAN HE1000,
MrSpeakers ETHER C,
Noble Audio Kaiser 10 custom-fit in-ear monitor,
RHA T20 earphone,
Westone W60

Value-Priced Universal-Fit Earphone of the Year

RHA T20 universal-fit earphone

RHA Audio is known for its affordable yet excellent earphones, perhaps the finest example of which would be the firm’s £179.95 T20. Like RHA’s somewhat less costly T10 earphones, the T20s provide injection moulded stainless steel earpieces, three sets of user selectable voicing tuning filters, and well-made signal cables. However, the T20’s distinctive ‘DualCoil’ dynamic driver is what sets this earphone apart. The driver features a single, dual-zone diaphragm powered by two separate voice coils—one handling bass and lower midrange frequencies with the other handling mids and highs, with both coils sharing a ring-shaped motor magnet. Functionally, the ‘DualCoil’ driver provides the benefits of a two-driver array, but with the coherency only a single-diaphragm driver can provide. The sonic result is an earphone that offers greater resolution and sophistication, more expressive dynamics, and better tonal balance than it has any right to for its price. (Reviewed in Issue 126.)

High-Performance Universal-Fit Earphone of the Year

Westone W60 universal-fit earphone

Westone helped launch the whole high-performance earphone/custom-fit in-ear monitor movement and is second to none in terms of depth of experience in the category—experience that shows itself in the flagship W60 universal-fit earphones. Much like the firm’s flagship ES60 CIEMs, the W60s use a sophisticated three-way array of six balanced armature drivers per earpiece. Moreover, the W60 is a marvel of ergonomic design, providing excellent long-term comfort and a truly ‘universal’ fit. Attending to details, Westone ships the W60 with two sets of proprietary low-resistance EPIC signal cables, a broad array of ear tips, and a watertight carrying case. The real story here, however, centres on the sound, which offers uncannily natural tonal balance, finely resolved details, and disarming subtlety—all offered up in an almost self-effacing way. Thus, the W60’s compelling charms grow on listeners slowly but surely, gradually leaving them spoiled for anything else. (Review pending.)

Custom-Fit In-Ear Monitor of the Year

Noble Audio Kaiser 10 custom-fit in-ear monitor

Custom-fit in-ear monitors represent the pinnacle of the in-ear listening experience, but which CIEMs represent the best of the best? For many, the answer would be the Noble Audio Kaiser 10s. The Kaiser 10 is a ten-driver, four-way, triple-bore CIEM that offers an uncannily smooth, powerful, and cohesive sound. In fact, Noble blends the outputs of the K10’s drivers so expertly that the illusion created is one of listening through sets of ultra-capable, wide-bandwidth, full-range drivers. Again, cohesiveness is one of the K10’s greatest strengths. At first, we found the K10 was generally well balanced, but that it offered a judicious touch of bass lift, plus some degree of treble roll-off. Over time, however, our K10 review samples have continued to open up, gradually achieving a more transparent and balanced sound than they exhibited at first—changes that reveal the true greatness of this classic CIEM. (Reviewed in Issue 119).

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